If there’s one thing that Alfredo Romano is proud of when it comes to his 3C Waterfront development, it might be the way it debunks an old real estate adage – the one that says you can’t have dissimilar income and demographic brackets co-existing on the same piece of high-priced real estate.
“I don’t want to create exclusive neighbourhoods,” says Mr. Romano, president of Toronto-based Castlepoint Numa. “It’s not what we’re about and it’s not what the city should be about. Toronto is so tightly woven that unless you integrate housing types across the city you end up creating ghettos. Urbanistically, it’s better to have mixed neighbourhoods.”
3C Waterfront will be exactly that – on a grand scale. A 2.5-million-square-foot community of commercial, residential and public buildings on a 13.5-acre strip of prime real estate abutting the Keating Channel, the 1,000-metre long waterway in Toronto that connects the Don River to inner Toronto Harbour on Lake Ontario. That’s an area roughly the size of Nathan Phillips Square, and 1.5 times the square footage of the Britain’s second tallest building, One Canada Square located at London’s Canary Wharf.
The defining structures at 3C Waterfront will be a 50,000-square-foot arts complex with multimedia programming and three towers, each a maximum height of 50 storeys. In a bid to attain Gold Certification under the globally recognized Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, exteriors of the buildings will be made from precast, energy efficient materials instead of traditional glazing. These precast exteriors will retain heat in winter and stay cooler in summer, making the building complex more efficient throughout the year.
Also slated for the development are mid-rise, residential finger buildings, including some 225 affordable homes (10 per cent of the total) for lower income families and professionals.
Typically, developers build separate entrances, lobbies and even structures to accommodate what’s known in the industry as inclusionary zoning, but 3C Waterfront is making a point of avoiding this “poor door” syndrome.
“Trying to make affordability and creating a sense of community ought to be the top priority in any development,” says Mitch Kosny, a long-time professor and associate director of Ryerson University’s School of Urban and Regional Planning. “Having a sociodemographic mix is normal and appropriate. It’s the definition of a healthy community and it’s pretty much what most Canadians grew up with. Homogeneity is not what we should be building.”
At the heart of 3C Waterfront will be a pedestrian zone featuring a Barcelona-style plaza, which will serve as a kind of urban mixing bowl. Alternately fed by boulevards and compact laneways – what the Dutch called woonerfs or “living streets” because they prioritize human movement over other forms of traffic – it will be flanked by Shibuya-style shops and Les Halles-reminiscent café terraces. Also planned is a red brick tunnel linking 3C with the historic Distillery District to the immediate north, creating a supersized pedestrian zone that will connect to the lakeshore promenade.
Sourcing local and international brainpower
“A huge amount of brainpower was sourced locally and internationally to realize 3C,” says Mr. Romano, who also developed Toronto’s 58-storey L Tower condos on the Esplanade and the new Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in the Lower Junction. “It’s European in intent with high design values, which is why the first firm we hired for the master plan was Foster + Partners.”
London-based Foster + Partners is a kind of Georges Braque or Giorgio de Chirico of the design world, whose cubist-influenced designs include the Kuwait International Airport and The One skyscraper at Yonge and Bloor – Canada’s tallest building at 85-storeys. In total, six leading architectural firms collaborated on 3C, including Toronto’s KPMB Architects, Montreal’s Claude Cormier + Associates and New York’s SHoP Architects.
But for all its progressive thinking and innovative design, 3C Waterfront – which is being developed by Castlepoint Numa in partnership with Cityzen Development Group and Continental Ventures – has been somewhat lost in the shadows of its attention-hogging new neighbour, Google affiliate Sidewalk Labs. Sidewalk’s controversial proposal for an experimental smart hub on a 12-acre parcel at Quayside – slightly smaller than 3C Waterfront with an assessed value of $590-million – has almost entirely dominated the conversation and media coverage surrounding the future of the eastern waterfront.
“What will be transformative for the area is incremental, high quality development from a variety of players,” Mr. Romano says. “Sidewalk Labs could become a part of that constellation.”
Symbiotic connection to Quayside
In fact, 3C and Quayside have much in common, with some industry watchers describing 3C as Quayside minus the surveillance and data collection. For example, both are working on a large canvas – not only in terms of scale, but also coherence and vision. As the biggest private sector development on Toronto’s private waterfront land, terms like community building, livability and affordability were front and centre in 3C planning conversations, right from the start.
“Both projects have major roles to play in the extension of Queen’s Quay East as the public spine of the eastern waterfront,” says Bruce Kuwabara, founding partner at Toronto’s KPMB Architects who helped articulate 3C’s master plan. “They should complement one another by creating centres of gathering that serve both precincts.”
Waterfront Toronto, a powerful not-for-profit mandated by three levels of government (including the City of Toronto) to deliver a revitalized waterfront, is spearheading a push for housing affordability. It stipulates that at minimum, 20 per cent of residential units built on the waterfront must be made available to market at a 20 per cent discount, as defined by the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation (CMHC). For example, data shows that a one-bedroom apartment in Toronto today rents for an average of $1,270 a month whereas, according to Waterfront Toronto’s definition of affordable rent, the same unit would be available for $1,016 a month.
According to this formula, Sidewalk Labs proposes to make 20 per cent of all residential units affordable, with at least a quarter of those going to people with pronounced affordability needs. Another 20 per cent of residential units will be set aside for middle-income households. “The missing middle is an area of need that has been repeatedly highlighted by government and leading thinkers on housing, but is often left out of development plans,” says Keerthana Rang, associate director of communications at Sidewalk Labs.
“I’m a big advocate for affordable housing so I like that 3C is putting together all the ingredients for a complete community,” says Meg Davis, chief development officer at Waterfront Toronto, noting that 3C and Quayside together are expected to deliver about 725 affordable homes.
By some estimates, if even 10 per cent of the kind of city-wide inclusionary zoning mandated by Waterfront Toronto had been enacted 25 years ago, an additional stock of 50,000 affordable homes would now be available in Toronto – a figure that could have significantly diminished the ongoing sting of this city’s worst ever housing crisis.
But with Toronto developers cancelling numerous condo projects in recent years (Castlepoint Numa’s Museum FLTS among them), creating affordability has become even more difficult.
“The industry used to count on certain cost increases and timelines that are no longer reliable,” Mr. Romano says. “I will never again launch a project unless I’m sure the regulatory framework is completely solved.”
A values-based approach
That does not, however, change Mr. Romano’s commitment to what he calls “values-based” development. “Not everything comes down to a simple numerical value and the bottom line,” says Mr. Romano, noting that Castlepoint Numa plans to build about 500 affordable homes in the next 10 years, all independently of government assistance. A majority will be erected on the eastern waterfront, where Castlepoint also owns a five-acre property on nearby Cherry Street.
So much of Toronto’s future as a livable megacity hinges on successful, thoughtful expansion. But how will the area look in 10 years? “We’ll have neighbourhoods that are diverse, walkable, compact and affordable,” says KPMB Architects’ Mr. Kuwabara. “There will be increased bicycle usage and a demand for social services including daycare and schools.”
Adds Mr. Romano: “When I first started building here 25 years ago there was almost nothing east of Yonge St. except derelict buildings. Seeing everything come together like this is enormously satisfying.”